Today, Drew and Ryan Mogge are discussing Jem and the Holograms 6, originally released September 2nd, 2015.
Drew: I think we all know the feeling of showing a movie (or even a youtube video) we love to somebody for the first time: it’s mostly excitement, but also a little fear that maybe they won’t find it as funny or smart or touching or whatever as you do. That feeling actually has an even more tense relative that may not be quite as universal: showing a tv show you love to somebody. This was particularly tense in the pre-DVR, pre-Netflix age, when your only resource was whatever episode was on next — in the case of a current series, an episode that you had never seen before. That was particularly anxiety-provoking because a show is greater than the sum of its parts — any one episode can’t hope to be as engaging as the series as a whole. Unless, of course, the that episode was a perfect microcosm of what makes the series great, like Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell’s Jem and the Holograms 6, which serves as a perfect introduction to the series, distilling everything special about it into one tight little issue.
Right out of the gate, Campbell gives us a kind of police lineup of both the Holograms and the Misfits, which itself serves as a reminder of how unique this series really is:
You’d be hard pressed to find another series with nine women of different heights, let alone different body types and skin tones. We’ve already noted the diversity of Campbell’s character designs elsewhere, so I won’t dwell on this point, but having a reminder that these characters are all different — even if they don’t all get meaningful lines in this scene — goes a long way towards making this world feel real.
But of course, it’s not just the character designs that make this series so special — it’s the actual character interactions that truly sets Campbell’s work here apart. My favorite moment comes as Kimber faces some doubts about Stormer’s trustworthiness:
That third panel just kills me — Kimber is so small and given so much headroom here, you can almost feel the weight of her thoughts crushing her. That makes Aja’s teasing and Kimber’s reaction all the more joyous, pulling Kimber back to Earth before refocusing her on the bond she shares with her sisters. The relationship between the Holograms was another highlight we noted in the very first issue, and Campbell and Thompson continue to nail it here.
That particular reconciliation is particularly cathartic after a little twist Thompson puts in the discussion, having Kimber object to some of the language Aja was using. It’s a quick exchange — just two panels — but it’s just enough to acknowledge how important language can be in a sensitive discussion like this. It also clarifies that Aja’s objections have nothing to do with Kimber’s sexuality, and that the sisters are only supportive. More than anything, though, I’m impressed at Thompson’s confidence in letting one of her characters be careless in this way — Aja doesn’t mean to hurt Kimber, and is immediately apologetic, but even that is more wrongdoing than most writers would allow their protagonists to perpetrate.
Even colorist M. Victoria Robado gets in on the character work, continuing to use each character’s mood to color the backgrounds behind them. It’s still the most obvious during arguments, where the redness of the background tracks pretty directly with the anger of the characters, but you even see it in that panel of Kimber in the page above, where a gradient reflects how all of the color has drained from her life. It’s a subtle effect, but it really emphasizes her loneliness there.
Even with all of that thoughtful character work, this issue still manages to pack in a few concert scenes — did I mention how this issue was a microcosm of the series as a whole? Again, we’ve spilled enough digital ink talking about how clever Campbell’s layouts are for conveying the music in those scenes, so I’ll instead focus on the very end of the final concert scene, which again features some stellar character work.
Each Misfit has a slightly different reaction, giving them each a meaningful beat here. Plus, it’s gorgeous — the design feels ripped right off of an album jacket, and Robado’s stunning color work here puts it right over the top. Actually, Robado even manages to get in one more background trick, heightening to bright red for Pizzazz’s final declaration — a color withheld until that very moment.
Ryan! This is my first chance to really dig into this series, and I’m impressed at how sophisticated the storytelling is. It’s more than I would have ever expected from a comic based on a Saturday-morning cartoon, but I suppose I should know by now that IDW doesn’t mess around with this stuff. I realize I may have covered a lot of the same ground from your previous discussions with Patrick on this series, but I can’t get over how good it is! I hope you’re as excited about not having anything new to say about it as I am (or, you know, feel free to say something new to say about it).
Ryan: This series continues to be a delight! Each page is gorgeous, the story is fun and it never fails to put a smile on my face. The last element is the hardest to articulate, but it must be tied to the excellent characterization.
Drew, I’m so glad that you highlighted the scene where Kimber’s sisters comfort her. The warmth of the sisters’ relationships is such a strong aspect of this issue. When Jerrica tells Kimber, “no more secrets,” I believe her. Jerrica may be committed to lying to Rio, whose opinions on Jem reinforce that choice, but her relationship with her sisters is more precious. The sisters’ bond is special, even before you add in magic holograms. Thompson and Campbell set the two bands in the aftermath of the food fight as contrasts. The comfort Kimber finds with her sisters contrasts with Stormer’s isolation and Pizzazz’ threats of removal.
Thompson uses the word “destroy” three times in the issue to describe outperforming a rival onstage. First, Pizzazz tries to salvage her chance to compete against the Holograms. She is not satisfied to win by a technicality. For these two bands, the competition is more than a figurative battle. Pizzazz must win to reinforce her power. Her attitude and diva behavior is based on a belief in her talent along with a perverse code of ethics. She demands loyalty from Stormer and plausible deniability from Clash. She is willing to tacitly support criminal behavior, but she won’t tolerate romance. Later, the emcee uses the term “destroy” to describe the Mistfits’ dominance in the competition. The most interesting use of the term is in reference to Jerrica’s plan. Thus far, Jerrica has been written as fairly passive. She started the series near catatonic due to stage fright and now she is emerging as a leader. Thompson has slowly revealed Jerrica to be more that the “nice one.” Jerrica sets up her band to defeat the Misfits with the power of music and spectacle. There is no denying that Jem and the Holograms are quite the spectacle. The Misfits leave their own concert mid-song to check out what’s happening across the street.
Campbell uses pink star-shaped smoke that starts as disruptive wisps to show the Holograms’ music pulling attention from the jagged shapes of the Misfits. The pink starts to form stars, luring the audience and the Misfits themselves to their rivals. On the back of their guitar-shaped motorcycles, the Misfits look ready for battle. With shoulders hunched forward, bodies poised, and a pink to purple gradient in the background, these panels look like a Lisa Frank/Mad Max mash up. A welcome combination that gives gravity to what is otherwise simple rivalry.
The exact nature of the holograms hasn’t been explained (and needn’t be) but I wonder who is in control of the growling dinosaur. Was it set up beforehand to greet the Misfits or is this Synergy’s first salvo against them? I choose to believe the latter, but I also like to think that Jerrica knew the Misfits couldn’t resist seeing what upstaged them. Either way, I love the sense of harmless play that exists in these panels. There is one thing that nags at me, though. Why is Rio, rock journalist, holding a tray full of coffees in the wings during The Misfits performance? Is he moonlighting as an assistant? Does angry pop music make him thirsty? The search for answers gives me an excuse to reread the series while I wait for issue #7.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?